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Saturday, 31 December 2011

Happy New Year 2012!

Happy new year folks! I wish one and all a very blessed new year ahead. 

I pray all of you get to move towards your goals and do the things you've always wanted to do. 

Thank you all for the 257 visits since July this year. It has been an amazing journey so far, I hope it will only get better.

God bless you all! 

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Round-Robin and the Elevators Scheduling at my Block

Talking about round-robin, I am reminded of the elevators at the block of flats where I live.

I've been frustrated at the elevators before. Sometimes when I call for the elevator, I can tell that 2 of the lifts are in transit (going somewhere, with or without passangers).

Sometimes only 1 out of 3 is in transit.

When I call the lifts, I expect one of the lifts that are parked to be mobilised. Instead, the logic that drives the lifts assignment lets that lift go in the opposite direction, then come to a rest, (either to drop off some passenger or park itself), then wakes itself again, to come to my level. There are many other cases of combination of the lifts doing different things mid-way, and reacted in a very inefficient manner, resulting in my having to wait a huge amount of time before a lift picks me up. Now I realise this has totally got to do with the concept of round-robin (or the lack of) assignment.

They may be using another set of rules to guide the scheduling algorithm on which lifts to activate for all I know. Maybe I should go and read up a bit of elevator scheduling just to clear my doubts. :)

Round-Robin's Definition and EastWest's Play Engine

In the course of reading the manuals of EastWest virtual instruments plug-ins, I keep coming across the term "round-robin".

What Round-Robin Means

At first it seemed to be a recording technique, or some kind of microphone set-up. I searched google.com for "round-robin mic techniques", and found nothing. Closest results relevant to audio processing was a a "round-robin" setting in protools configuration that allows Protools to be configured to read/write audio data from an array of hard-disks to ensure stability of glitch-less recording. 

After I watched the videos from Youtube (from the previous blog entry), they used the term to describe the way samples are triggered.

Here's what I found on Answers.com:

and from wikipedia.org

The original meaning is to describe the signing of a petition in a way that signatures are passed around in a circle to make it impossible to know was which signature belongs to whom.

In sports terms, it is the matching of every contestant against every other contestant.

In programming terms, it is the simplest scheduling algorithm that for every time a resource is needed for a task, the round-robin algorithm selects which supplier to pull a certain resource from, out of a list of resource suppliers. This ensures that every resource provider is used the same number of times over a given period. This means that if there are 4 resource providers, each will be taxed equally over a period of time.

As I am re-phrasing this definition, I am imagining 4 missile barrels triggered by software, controlling which barrel to fire each time. If there is a need to continuously fire off 50 missiles, we could use the round-robin method to assign which barrel to fire each missile off.

An extreme case of imbalanced load assignment would be to fire all 50 rounds from tube 1. That would leave the other 3 tubes totally idle. Therefore an example of round-robin style assignment would be to fire off tubes in the sequence of tube numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4, etc... There could be a more complex assignment based on random values, like 1, 4, 2, 3, 2, 4, 1, 3, etc... It could even be based on rules. If each tube takes a slightly different time to reload, our algorithm would have to query which tube is available and loaded, then assign that tube to be the next to fire.

The aim is to balance the load on each of the resource provider (this is called load-balancing). Therefore at the end of a fixed duration, the number of times each resource (or tube) is being used, would be about the same. (This duration could be at the end of the hour, or at the end of 50 rounds of firing, or at the end of a day, etc).

I think the sports and programming terminology for round-robin is quite similar. It ensures every request (or sportsman) is matched with every other resource (or opponents, in sports) in the same number of times of events that calls for the resource (or matches, in sports).

So how does that apply to the virtual instrument plugin situation?

Round Robin in EastWest's "Play" Engine

It seems that EastWest is employing this round robin kind of task-versus-resource assignment to allocate which samples to trigger when you issue a MIDI note event (ie, when you hit a key on the MIDI controller). 

This is one of the EastWest videos showing the Fab Four virtual instruments library and its instruments in great detail. This is part 2 of 3.

Watch the video at 2mins 27secs, when round-robin is mentioned. It is used to trigger the samples from alternate takes of the same note to play, when you repeatedly play on the same note on the virtual instrument.

At 1min 09secs, the hi-hats from the drumkit when played, will automatically trigger off left- and right-handed sampled hi-hat hits to play when you play that midi note repeatedly.

That is one of the many supported features of the EastWest play engine. Its really simple and intuitive, but yet it has all the features you'll ever need from a virtual instrument.

Skanner (from Native Instruments) is Now Free

I received an email notification about December offerings and promotions from Native Instruments. 

One of the things that caught my eye, they are giving away a free synthesizer that runs on Reaktor. It's called Skanner.
The image attached in the email
Skanner is a synthesizer with a unique architecture, offering a unique blend between sampling and synthesis. With this refreshing new method of synthesis, we can generate unlimited variations of new sounds, from our own supplied samples. Sounds like clean sine waves to raw, dirty and grimy sounds are all possible with Skanner. 

In the centre of the interface we can see a huge dial with numbers. This is the Preset Morpher, the heart creative possibilities which this plugin is based on. NI calls it Morphological Synthesis. This allows us to load up multiple presets and morph the sound from one preset to the other. The speed of morphing can be controlled. This makes it a really powerful and versatile synthesizer, capable of creating really out-of-this world sounds that other synths cannot.

The image above shows the simple 'A' interface that controls the most commonly used features. However, there is also a second 'B' interface that shows more complex and detailed controls for those who need it.
Skanner will install with 136 presents / sounds, falling under the categories of pads, soundscapes, leads, bass, keys and sfx.

I do not know if this is being given away as a time-limited offer, so don't hesitate! Go over to Native Instrument's website and listen to the demo tracks to get a taste of the kinds of awesome sounds this plug-in can create! Moreover, its FREE. Read up more about this free Reaktor-powered synthesizer at the Skanner product page

Monday, 19 December 2011

Working While Listening to East West Videos

I am at work doing my job and listening to the EastWest Quantum Leap SoundsOnline Tutorials channel on Youtube.com.

There are lots of tutorials there and demonstration of their different sample libraries.

So whether you alread own the products or just wanting to have a listen to some of the sounds, or just looking for a deeper understanding of the kind of work that's put into creating instruments, this is definitely a place worth checking out.

I've been having some fun with the instruments and laying down some sketch tracks with EastWest Complete Composer's Collection at home, so I am looking for resources so I can learn how to use it better, and to its fullest potential.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

iLok Dongle Arrived!

Today my iLok dongle for my EastWest Complete Composers Collection arrived!
Finally I can authorise and run EastWest software!

(I am writing this post sometime in January. I have written another post on my thoughts about the iLok dongle. You can read it here: http://journeyintomusic.blogspot.com/2012/01/pace-ilok2-review.html)

Saturday, 10 December 2011

It Has Arrived! - EastWest Complete Composers Collection

My EastWest Complete Composers Collection has finally arrived today! It arrived in the afternoon at my workplace.

When I went home I immediately unboxed it.
To my surprise and dismay, the hard-disk that shipped was actually an internal harddisk!

I had a few external hard-disks that were encased in external casings (these require an external power supply to work). To save me from spending on another external hard disk case, I removed one of my hard-disks and put in my EastWest hard disk instead.

That took me the whole night. Finally, I got to the stage where I could install the software. However, I could not use it because my iLok dongle had not arrived. Thus I had to wait. That's fine, because work has been busy for the past weeks, and will continue to be busy for the remaining of the year.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Orders Shipping Have Initiated

I've received emails that my orders for EastWest Composers Collection and the iLok dongle have been initiated!

Sorry if this looks like spam. Its more for documenting for myself. hahaha :)

Working with Sonivox Vocalizer

After work tonight I had some time to play with the Vocalizer a little bit.

The installation came with a collection of videos that show how to set up Vocalizer for use in various plug-in hosts that it can be used with. 

Sonivox Vocalizer is a bit tricky to use in terms of setting up the signal flow into the plug-in. To function, it needs 2 inputs: one stream of audio signal, and another is a MIDI signal input. 

Audio signal is the main input signal that is going to get modified by Vocalizer. The MIDI signal provides Vocalizer with frequency/pitch information. Based on this pitch information, Vocalizer can use it to manipulate, modulate, extract the audio information, thereby generating a whole new sound.

In other words, it is applied as an insert effect rather than an instrument in FL Studio. The installation actually comes with videos showing how to set-up and use the plug-in when used under various hosts (Logic, Cubase, Protools, Sonar, FL Studio). There is also a Acrobat PDF file explaining exactly the same thing as the video tutorials, in diagrams and screenshots with arrows and break-out labels explaining the process under various hosts.

Presently, I have mostly used FL Studio for sequencing and processing instruments output. However, I have never recorded audio in FL Studio. Looks like it is time for me to properly get acquainted with FL Studio's audio recording and waveform editing tools.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Vocalizer Has Arrived!

This morning I walked into work, and to my delight I found a box at my table. It is the arrival of my order of Sonivox's Vocalizer! It was a big box but it was unbelievably light!

 Back at home when I opened up the big box. 

I found only 3 things inside. A CD jacket with a DVD inside (which contains the software installation), a card that contains the authorisation code for the software, and a piece of A4 paper that contains the invoice for the order.

Installation was a breeze. Within minutes I had already authorised the software online and loaded up the plug-in inside of FL Studio. I have not done any audio recording in FL Studio before, so I have to spend some time figuring out the workflow.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Purchased the East West Composer Collection HD

The power of e-mail marketing! 
East West was having a year-end sale where you purchase 2 products and get the cheaper one free. Yes I got this again from their promotional email in my mailbox. ;(

I actually only wanted to get just Golaith and the Symphonic Choir virtual instruments. Each one of them cost US$495. But in the end I also wanted the Stormdrum2 and maybe the Symphonic Orchestra virtual instrument. I was doing a lot of weighing in my head. I aimed to pick out 2 from the list, but in the end I was still left with 3: Symphonic Choir, Stormdrum2 and the Goliath.

At that point I realised that even if I bought 2 sets of 2-for-1 bundles, it would come up to about US$900. That brought me back to the original promotion: EastWest's Composers Collection HD offer. You can pick 7 virtual instruments and you get 75% off the total price, starting from US$779. That gives much more mileage for the money spent compared to the original 2-for-1 promotion. (I realise that after a while the Composers Collection link may go dead since they say it is a time-limited offer).

So in the end I ended up ordering for the Composers Collection HD.

On top of purchasing this bundle, they need an iLok licensing hardware for the virtual instruments to work. That costs about US$49. All in all it was a good but very expensive buy too. I found one for US$39.90 on Amazon.com and ordered it. I am now back in Singapore so I can only use comgateway.com to get it delivered to me. (Singapore is not on the list of "worldwide" addresses that Amazon will deliver to).

Now I feel a pang of guilt. The past 6 months have been the time I've spent the most money for as far back as I can remember. Fast and furious! I am not a professional musician/composer, but I am investing such a huge amount of money on these things. 

However I feel its the right way to go, when compared to spending money purchasing synthesizers, which is what I was doing for the past years. I don't know if it will pay off in the long run, but I feel it will definitely help me in the journey in music, equipping me with the industry-standard tools to make the music I like. 

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Sonivox Vocalizer

Was browsing through my mailbox today and I saw... Discount from Sonivox for thanksgiving! 25% off all Sonivox purchases!

So being unsuspecting and curious, I went over to take a look again at their products... Then I remembered that Vocalizer was their product. I came across this the time I bought Native Instruments Komplete 8. I was quite amazed by the technology and the limitless possibility this product can have.

It is not merely a vocoder (even though it functions superbly as a vocoder). It is a synthesis engine that takes waveform as input. It can take anything from instruments tracks, a percussive beat and human voices. With that as an input, and relatively simple and easy-to-understand controls, Vocalizer can output unlimited variations of the sound, bringing up harmonics (primaries and secondaries), morphing it into something totally wild (if you so wish it). Every control can be automated and assigned to midi controllers.

Listen to the demo here (or go to the Vocalizer product page). There are also quite a few videos from the product page. They are hosted by YouTube.com so I am embedding them here:


Monday, 14 November 2011

FL Studio Merchandising Design Contest: Won 2nd Prize!

What a big surprise! I opened up my email and I saw a receipt from Image-Line software, makers of FL Studio. 

I went into the contest forum thread, and I found that I won the 2nd prize!

First prize by AndrAKondrA had 167 votes, winning 25% of all the votes:
This image is from the forum where there was a button to click to vote ;)

2nd prize was my entry, scoring a 148 votes, winning 22% if all votes:
This image is from the forum where there was a button to click to vote ;)

The entry by gamecat666. It won 3rd prize with 111 votes, bagging 17% of all votes:

Winning the 2nd prize in this contest means I would receive 300 IL Virtual Cash. 1st prize wins 500 IL Virtual Cash and 3rd prize wins 100 IL Virtual Cash.

There were comments on the voting page that 3D renders are more eye catching on computer displays and more likely to attract voter's attention. However the concept and layout/composition may not be the best in the context of a t-shirt design or a mug. My piece was used as an example, because my cables were "cut-off" by the boundary of my rendered frame, thereby making it not the best candidtate, design-wise.

Also, with regards to designing for the print-medium in mind, some people also commented that photo-realistic renders, even they look attractive, would not be so suitable for mugs and t-shirts, if the designers had actually had experience doing designs for t-shirts.

The moderator commented that the designs could be used in posters for example, and they might work with us to request for modification to make the designs more suited to their purposes.

I absolutely agree with the fact that 3D spoils the market, in a way. The glossy finish and realistic shading do have the effect of covering up a weaker concept. Any piece of deisng with a nice 3D render is a design with a good execution. It would carry an average design through to become above-average. 

Only people who're trained in design can tell if a design is strong or not. It means that with their strong foundation, they will always have an edge over 3D software users who do not have fundamental knowledge in image composition, lighting principles and colour theory. That is why I believe being a 3D (CG/VFX) aritst, one should also be very aware of those foundation in art and aesthetics.

Thank you for your support, voters!

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Taking the Crowd to the Cloud - Social Media for the Music Industry

From a promotional email from headliner.fm, there was this time-limited offer for a reduced price for the book entitled: "Taking the Crowd to the Cloud - Social Media for the Music Industry" by Kelli Richards. This book is sold on Amazon USA (not in the UK), and the Kindle version of the book was going for US$3.99 (after tax it was US$4.59).

This is a really up-to-date guide to help change the business mindsets of artists/artiste managers/producers/music marketing people, making them more aware of the ever-changing landscape of online communities, social networking, and emerging marketing and publicity avenues. 

With the advent of social media and online direct-to-listeners kind of business model, the powers of marketing strategies are shifting from huge labels into the hands of the individual artists and groups. This book discusses the inevitably changing mode of future content distribution, and how artists can prepare themselves to fully harness this new medium to directly reach out to more listeners than ever before.

It also talks about strategies that targets the present consumer behaviours, how to engage listeners and fans. It also advises strategies to draw them in, to interact with them experience with them so they can have a deeper understanding of the artists/groups and their music. 
I am still slowly going through the book (I am reading multiple books in parallel). However, I highly recommend it based on what I have read so far. 

The author takes a very down-to-earth approach to recommending our course of action when it comes to publicity, what to (and not to)  post on different social sites. Her examples are very current, and she has great insight on where the content business will head towards in the near future.

Whether you are an established or professional artist, in the distribution business or simply a music hobbyist, this is a real eye-opener with a broad view of the business. 

Friday, 11 November 2011

Headphones Render Again! With Reflected Glow

Rendered in Mental Ray again, using a bokeh samples value of 32.

Applying the reflected glow test from a previous post, I applied a Mental Ray mia shader which enabled the glow on the cable to be reflected on the ground. Compare this with the previous post and you will see the glow is clearly reflected on the ground. This gives a more realistic look.

This took 4 hours and 31 minutes to render for 2000x1300 pixels. Much better than the render in the previous post, which took 7 hours with 64 samples in the Bokeh node.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

How I (re-)Discovered Regine Velasquez

I remembered the song in my head tonight. Only a portion of the lyrics was in my head - "The moon and stars came out to play". 

http://www.lyrster.com/ gave me the title I was looking for: It was 'Zoom' by Fat Larry's Band. I was quite fond of the song for a long while. Interestingly there was another hit on the same title. The singer was Regine Velasquez. 
Next I went to Grooveshark.com to look for the song. I found the original one from Fat Larry's Band. When I searched for Regine Velasquez's version, I could not find it. Instead I took a listen to all her other songs. She has a lot of her own cover version of popular songs. When I listened to them I was quite blown away by her voice, her singing technique, and the sincere emotions showing through. I felt her voice was very pure and refreshing and the music was tastefully done to bring out her voice. 

I can tell that the music was not mainstream sounding. The arrangement style was mostly 80s and 90s pop, but was a bit sparse, a bit budget sounding, not really as thick and not as richly processed as the mainstream recordings of that period. However I felt that the music arrangement did get the job done more than adequately. I also saw her other songs that were in a foreign language. I thought she was either Indonesian, Malay or Vietnamese.

I then went to do a Wikipedia search of Regine Velasquez. It was only when reading through this extraordinary singer that I realised this was the very same female Filipino singer was the one that did sang together with Jacky Cheung in his very popular song called "In Love with You". 

She was raised from a musical family which fully supported and nurtured her since her youth. This equipped her and enabled her to win many awards first in the Philippines then the region, and finally worldwide acclaim. She was also the first Asian singer to perform at the Main Hall of Carnegie Hall for her debut solo concert in New York. Over the years she also did acting and hosting for TV shows.

I was very touched by her humble beginnings. It seems to me that she could have been anybody, but her passion, perseverance and hardwork enabled her to rise above the rest and become an international name. It must not have been easy for her to rise to her international stardom at that time, when the media was not as effective like it is today. There was no YouTube, no video sharing websites. Being an Asian myself I feel proud and inspired by her story.

Regine Velasquez, your story of success and hard work which enabled you to become an international star, has inspired me and earned my respect!

Friday, 4 November 2011

Improvements to the FL Studio Headphones Render

I still wanted to persue the idea of a smoking cable and smoking logo. So I went ahead to Maya and tried playing around with Maya fluids. 

After developing the look for the fluids, this is the final result. I also brought up the overall brightness of the lights by quite a fair bit.

Next up, I might want to animate this to a beat or something.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Submitted Entries for Image-Line Merchandise Design Contest

I've finally finished it! Submitted what I've worked on for the last weeks. If you read my blog entry just a few posts back, I submitted 2 ideas for merchandise: a coin bank and a candy jar

While I was still working on it more than a week ago, YC happened to see it and commented that they weren't so attractive. As in, he probably would not want to get one if he saw it at an online shop.

On Friday evening I purchased FL Studio and I told YC about it. YC saw it that the prize for the competition was the sole motivating factor for my purchase of the software, so that I could start posting entries at the forum. 

Since last week, YC was already telling me to try and come up with something else. So last Sunday, I began to build the model of a headphone. Initially I had no idea at all what I was going to do. I had a vague idea that I was going to do the Fruity Loops logo again, on the headphones or something. I also thought of using the fruit as the source that the headphones were plugged into.

On Wednesday I submitted the coin bank and candy bar entry. On that night, YC tried to help me brainstorm for design ideas. I think he was itching to stretch his creative brain muscles. We came up with strange things, from lava lamps to trees bearing the fruity logo as fruits. 

So all the way to the weekend I continued to model and develop the model. I had some problem trying to model the mesh. I had 1 that is bump mapped, and I had 1 with circular holes and another with hexigonal holes cut into planes.
On Saturday night, I went without sleep for the full night trying to light, texture and develop the look for the single shot I am rendering. 
Some technical details pertaining to CG and 3D which described my process of modelling and rendering the image are included in the similarly named post on my VFX blog here: http://patrickvfx.blogspot.com/2011/10/submitted-entries-for-fl-studio.html.

That was 30 Oct morning, London time. Contest ends 30 Oct. I was not very sure which time zone, so I finished it by Sunday 9am, my local London time.

After submitting it, I decided to run the rendered image through an Android app by Autodesk called Pixlr-o-matic. Its available from the Apple App Store too. Here are the amazing results and variations.

Many of  them are useable and
totally changes the feel of the image right? I was quite amazed at what mobile apps can do these days. So after I got these variations out, I quickly logged on and submitted a few more just to show the potential of the render.

I got a reply that said "damn kids throwing their 3D around these days". I think it was meant as a joke :). Another person replied "I want one of those, would you actually make them and how much can I buy them for?". Thats a great compliment to my work! 

The design contest was primarily a DESIGN contest. Probably the most important factor for judges  to consider would be the element of design. So I am prepared that the people evaluating the entries would throw my image out the door (including the fruity coin bank and candy jar). 

My very lousy connection at home prevented me from replying them.

After my last 2 entries (coint bank and candy jar) that had links to a video clips of animated turn table, 3D entries in the forum started to include turntable video links. Copycats! Hah! ;)

There are not activities in the forum, so we'll just wait for the results and see.

I had an idea of smoke coming out from the logo and cable, but I did not have time to do it. I think I'll continue to work on it and maybe post a post-contest entry in the forum, just to show how I meant it to be. I've just got to be disciplined enough to carry it through.